I think I first encountered the Black Science Orchestra in 1994, when I picked up a copy of The Altered States EP in a Camden basement which was (I think) called Rockit Records, a few doors down from Tusk, where I used to get my hair cut. That’s the 12” that includes Philadelphia and New Jersey Deep, which reworked components of Funkanova’s Wood, Brass And Steel into a new dancefloor classic. I remember someone behind the counter was playing a bootleg of the Louie Vega remix of Mondo Grosso’s Souffles H, and I also bought that unmissably wonderful jazz/house crossover and sat back while it didn’t get a full release for another year.
Ashley Beedle launched the Black Science Orchestra in 1992, with Where Were You?, which helped launch the London-based Junior Boys’ Own imprint on the world stage by giving New York house DJs new music to play carved out of their own disco heritage. There’s a nice YouTube interview with label founders Terry Farley and Steve Hall that fills in more of the background, filmed to mark Defected’s reissue of the catalogue on digital.
Twenty-one years on and the track still sounds fantastic, the intensity gradually building over the warm and fuzzy bassline, taking the best part of four minutes to delay the sweet satisfaction of the soaring Sigma Sound string figure that is the most precious of all the stones mined from sparkling surface of The Trammps’ 1977 New York blackout track, The Night The Lights Went Out.
Ashley’s original partners had been John Howard and Rob Mello (Rob went on to join the sample-grooving Disco Elements team, whose work has not perhaps lasted so well). The Altered States EP debuted the classic line-up, with Ashley joined by DJ/producer Marc Woolford and keyboards player Uschi Classen, which also featured on the 1996 LP Walter’s Room (named in memory of gay New York DJ and production maverick Walter Gibbons). By the time Ashley revived the project in 1999 on Afro Art Records, the label he himself had founded three years earlier, the credits don’t name-check Uschi any more.
The Ladyland EP dates from this final phase, which was to finish in 2002 with the magnificent Headspace Lullaby, marking the end of the project with a track that paradoxically sounds like nothing else that had come over the decade before. I stumbled across the 12” in the Oxford Street Virgin Megastore (retail space now occupied by Primark, which tells its own story about the struggles of the old-school music industry). Had I not been in some way always on the lookout for a Black Science Orchestra record at the time, it might have been easy to miss in the poorly-organised vinyl racks: its promo-style plain white paper sleeve and minimal stickered label (‘The Black Science Orchestra/“Ladyland” EP/With love’) didn’t even include track titles.
The major sample resource is a Brothers Johnson track (Land Of Ladies) from their Quincy Jones-produced debut LP, Look Out For Number One. The A-side is the peak-time people-pleasing version, with its three-note musical hook repeatedly returning until it reaches its brass-backed climax. The first track on the B-side is effectively the dub: considerably sparer, and more or less without vocals, it chugs along to a deeper bassline, accompanied by a guitar riff with a dying fall.
But it’s side two, track two that got away until I started digitising. The pulse has dropped from around 124 to 111 beats per minute, much closer to the original, and the wandering synth lines mirror the source’s contributions from Don Lewis, whom the (very ’70s) credits list as using the Armand Pascettas Polyphonic Synthesized Keyboard System. The whole thing slow-burns with a new intensity, as a new female vocal sample (‘Don’t make me wait’) floats separately through the mix before blending into the main vocal hook. Everything now seems to work towards making something all the more compelling for being a little less obvious. Travelling to the land of ladies has rarely felt more irresistible.